First Female CEO Takes the Helm at ACIAR, Paving the Way for Change

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Breaking barriers: Who is the trailblazing woman leading a 41-year transformation at ACIAR?

In a groundbreaking development, Professor Wendy Umberger has assumed her role as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), making her the first woman to lead the organisation in its 41-year history. 

This milestone appointment was announced by Australia’s Foreign Minister in July, recognising Professor Umberger’s exceptional leadership in sustainable agriculture over the past two decades.

A Leader with a Track Record

With an illustrious career spanning 20 years in sustainable agriculture, Professor Umberger brings a wealth of experience and expertise to her new position. Before becoming ACIAR’s CEO, she served as the President of Australia’s Policy Advisory Council, where she contributed significantly to shaping policies that promote sustainable agricultural practices. Her journey from academia to leadership roles has been nothing short of inspiring.

“Food systems have never been under such pressure,” remarks Professor Umberger, addressing the pressing need for innovation in agriculture. 

She emphasises the need to find novel approaches to boost food production and quality while optimising resources and minimising environmental impact. Her insights echo her years of involvement in the field, a testament to her commitment to addressing the challenges that lie ahead.

Empowering Smallholder Farmers

Professor Wendy Umberger’s vision also extends to empowering smallholder farmers in developing nations. She highlights the importance of these farmers, who provide sustenance for more than half of the global population. Her emphasis on equitable access to information, market understanding, and tools for resilience underscores her dedication to fostering agricultural development in vulnerable communities.

ACIAR’s Legacy and Contributions

ACIAR has a history of bridging the gap between Australian agricultural expertise and the developing world. For over four decades, the organisation has played a pivotal role in enhancing food security, reducing poverty, and improving livelihoods across the Indo-Pacific region. Professor Umberger recognises the unwavering commitment of partner organisations and agencies that have supported ACIAR’s mission to drive agricultural research for development.

“I look forward to meeting you in the months ahead and working collaboratively to strengthen further the research partnerships needed to underpin sustainable agrifood systems,” says Professor Umberger, acknowledging the collaborative effort required to achieve ACIAR’s ambitious goals.

A Call to Action

The challenges of our time are monumental. Professor Umberger acknowledges the urgency of addressing these challenges amidst the worsening impacts of climate change. 

Her leadership comes at a critical juncture, as ACIAR is well-positioned to spearhead agricultural innovations that will secure our collective future.

A Legacy of Progress

Professor Umberger’s appointment marks a historic moment for ACIAR, and her vision promises to drive meaningful change in international agricultural research. As the seventh CEO since ACIAR’s establishment in 1982, she inherits a legacy of progress and an organisation poised to lead the charge in transforming global agrifood systems.

With her leadership, Professor Umberger is set to pave the way for increased gender diversity in leadership roles within the agricultural sector. Her tenure signifies a pivotal shift for ACIAR and an emblem of progress for women leaders in traditionally male-dominated fields.

As Professor Umberger assumes her new responsibilities, her journey from being a stalwart advocate of sustainable agriculture to becoming the first female CEO of ACIAR will undoubtedly inspire future generations to embrace leadership roles that drive positive change in agriculture.

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